Photo of Mai Rashwan

Arab American Heritage Month: Meet Mai Rashwan

April is Arab American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich culture and contributions of the diverse population of Arab Americans in the United States. It’s the third year that the month has been formally recognized by the federal government. To recognize the occasion, The Daily is putting a spotlight on members of the Case Western Reserve University community who identify as Arab American. 

Mai Rashwan

When Mai Rashwan was growing up in Egypt, she often tagged along to work with her father, a chemistry professor. She’d watch closely as he demonstrated experiments in his lab, and would listen intently as he explained things she saw in everyday life, such as why people cry while chopping onions. 

“He always inspired and motivated [my siblings and me] to learn new things,” Rashawn said.

Rashwan now discovers new knowledge daily as a third-year PhD student and teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry at Case Western Reserve, where she’s a member of Burda Research Group. The group is committed to ensuring a better future through studying how energy, health and the environment intertwine. 

Rashwan’s focus specifically is on photothermal properties of nanoparticles and their applications—emerging topics that aren’t yet fully understood in literature. 

“I am working to explain new mechanisms, and hopefully this will help later in multiple biological/industrial applications,” she explained. 

A warm environment 

Rashwan, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Suez Canal University, originally learned about Case Western Reserve through friends who lived in Cleveland. After a bit of research, she learned of a collaborative program between her home country, Egypt, and the United States that was available in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, which ultimately led to her enrollment in the PhD chemistry program. 

Part of what made CWRU so enticing was its diversity—more than 100 countries are represented in the university’s student body. Rashwan believes the campus community is open and accepting of those from different backgrounds—including her own.

“It’s wonderful that we are all sharing our experiences,” she added. “I believe [Arab American Heritage Month] is an excellent opportunity for the campus community to learn more about the diverse Arabic culture.”

Rashwan is from Ismailia, a city in the north-eastern part of Egypt situated on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Summers in Cleveland remind Rashwan, a  mother of three, of home—which is warm in more ways than one. 

“The beloved environment makes you feel [at] home no matter where you go in Egypt,” she explained. “Everyone is very cordial, helpful and respectful, even if they don’t know you. One of the nicest things about Egypt is its propensity for gatherings—particularly on religious holidays like Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Mother’s Day and Easter.”

Also at Case Western Reserve, Rashwan is a member of two student groups: the Middle Eastern Cultural Association (MECA) and a group that supports off-campus undergraduates who commute. And, she’s known to lend a helping hand to international students. At the end of this month, Rashwan will be honored with a Global Citizen Award from the Center for International Affairs for her efforts in supporting international students on campus. 

She believes the honor stems from her helping students find housing, telling them about food stores that carry items from their home countries, supporting them on campus and helping them get started with experimental work in the lab. 

Learn about other Arab American members of the CWRU community, and stay tuned to The Daily through April to meet even more.